It’s that week in the blogosphere (side note: I HATE the word blogosphere). You know what I’m talking about. Some of the food bloggers are writing about boycotts of certain candy companies; some are planning to boycott trick-or-treating altogether. Some are writing about how they don’t hand out any conventional candy whatsoever, while others are offering advice on how to pry the “Fun Size” chocolate bars out of your eight-year-old’s death grip so you can read the labels and use the Halloween haul as a teachable moment. And some are insisting that their homemade nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, allergen-approved, gourmet, organic, mocha-blood-orange-kumquat-anise-salted-caramel marshmallow ghosts, shaped laboriously to look exactly like Casper so as not to be TOO scary for the little dears, are a “simple” answer to the commercial fare most of us hacks will be handing out to the neighbor kids. (It’s only a 12-hour project, but most of that time is inactive! If you care, you’ll hand out homemade, unprocessed treats! Never mind that 99 percent of parents in today’s world won’t allow their kids to accept or eat unwrapped, homemade candy…)
So, with trepidation, I enter the fray. It’s Halloween week, and my kids are as geared up as anybody’s (well, L. is. P. mainly likes having me coach him: “What’s a dragon say, P.?” so he can respond with a good “Raaaaaaarrrrrr”). I’ve been reading other people’s forays into this topic and responding on some of their message boards, and I honestly considered maybe not dipping my toe into these waters this year; after all, I’m a newbie here in the blog world, and I’m still trying to make you all like me enough to keep reading and recommending my stuff. 🙂 But honestly, as Popeye would say, “I Yam What I Yam,” so I’ve determined that I can’t in good conscience keep this to myself any longer.
I. Hand. Out. Traditional. Store-Bought. Commercial. Unorganic. Bargain. Candy.
There. I’ve said it. And I let my kids collect it, too. Oh, I’ll go through it with them, and we’ll limit what they can keep and what we let them eat and all of that (more on our household rules for Halloween in a second), but I don’t use Halloween as the healthy-food teachable moment that many of the people I really respect here in the blog world seem to. I know, I know. It seems a little bit like a double standard, doesn’t it? I mean, I talk all the time about avoiding processed crap, and I’ll go off like a July 4th fireworks display if you try to engage me on the whole “HFCS is just Corn Sugar, and Corn Sugar is the same as any other sugar!” nonsense. I think L., at least, and probably both of my kids, are a little bit sensitive to certain food dyes and additives, so most of the time we avoid those, too. So why in the world do I let my defenses down on Halloween?
Simple. Because we’re so good, so much of the time; because even I don’t believe that a very limited amount of some of those “bad” ingredients will do them any real harm; and because I think that allowing a few pieces of conventional candy at Halloween — and not at other points during the year — is more effective in me teaching them moderation than an out-and-out ban. If I never let them try a Snickers bar, I’ve won a particular battle; but if I allow them the Snickers bar on October 31st, with a commentary about how it’s nice to have such a special treat JUST THIS ONCE, I’m setting the stage, I think, for a bigger win. It works, at least in my head, for two reasons: 1) we all know that if you completely disallow certain foods, there’s a good likelihood your kids will find a way to eat them when you’re not around, and then it’ll be without controls, discussion, or moderation; and 2) my kids’ palates are becoming educated as they grow, so when L. tries certain conventional candies/cookies/etc., he often finds that one bite will do it — he doesn’t much like the flavor of a lot of those things. Letting him realize that on his own is much more effective than trying to TELL him that xyz candies are yucky.
That being said, of course I don’t want to treat Halloween as the sugar-palooza it often becomes, so we have a certain game plan:
1) Limit the route. Fewer houses = less candy. We also go out early, before dinner, and we make sure (sneakily) to time things so that the kids will start to get hungry and want to go home to eat. (And on the route, make sure to say “no thanks!” to offers of more than one piece of candy.)
2) Have a candy cup. We use a mug or a small jar as the limit for L.’s “keep” candy. Whatever fits in there, he can keep; the rest either goes in the trash or gets recycled into our candy bowl to be passed out to the other trick-or-treaters.
3) Know what the parameters are, and why. We don’t let L. keep more than 2 lollipops, because they’re pure junk; we also don’t allow him to keep gummies or chewy candies, because they’re not only pure junk but also a choking hazard. “Those are hard to chew,” we tell him, “but if you would like to pick a piece of THIS candy instead, that’s a better choice.”
4) Let the kids regift their castoff candy. If you have a stance on certain candies because you really think they’re just awful, don’t pass them out — go ahead and junk them, with the explanation to your kids that “I wouldn’t want these in my trick-or-treat bag, so I won’t give them to somebody else!” But if there happens to be candy in the rejects pile that we would have let L. keep (if we weren’t being the mean parents who limit the candy to what fits in the mug), we have L. put it in the candy bowl and sit with us on the porch after dinner to help pass it out. He likes sharing his candy, and it offers me the chance to remind him that once he’s got an acceptable, enjoyable number of treats for himself, it’s a nice idea to share the wealth with others.
Once we’ve done all of that, we’re left with a very manageable amount of candy that I can at least sort of live with, which we will then put out of sight and dole out in very, very small amounts for no longer than a week or so (and not every day, for sure). After that time, most of it will either be gone, or L. will have forgotten about it. I can then throw it away guilt-free; he’ll have gotten his Halloween fix without us putting serious restrictions on him or going completely against the mainstream. Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for bucking the mainstream when the time is right — but it occurs to me, as I look at this whole Halloween issue, that Halloween was never THE PROBLEM when we were kids, or when our parents were kids. Nobody worried that letting their kids have a little candy, even candy with (gasp!) refined sugars, HFCS, food dyes, and all sorts of additives, would make them less healthy overall. Why? Some will argue that food was better back then; some will say that even the CANDY was better back then; and some will say that we just know better now than to let our kids eat that stuff. But I look at it a little differently. See, I think the FOOD CULTURE was what might have been better. Without lots of processed food options, people ate more whole foods, more meals at home, more family dinners, more real stuff. They ate less garbage, period. And they had more limits. Portions were smaller, parents were more involved in what their kids ate, and it was considered an actual treat to get candy, not a right or an accustomed part of the diet. So when Halloween came around, indulgence was OK.
And where are we, as a family? Well…we avoid the processed foods other families eat. We eat more whole foods, more family dinners, more meals at home than the average American. We eat less garbage, period. We try to set reasonable limits. And our kids eat what they’re given, just like Wally and the Beav. So for once, I’m not going to look at the Fun Size M&Ms as a symbol of the evils of sugar and food processing and use them as a platform to make a stand on the nutritional dumbing-down of America. I’m going to look at them the way my great-grandmother would have: As something that my kids will enjoy on Halloween night, and it probably won’t even kill them. But maybe I’ll put a few extra veggies on their plates, just in case.